My Heart's in the Highlands

My Heart's in the Highlands is a play by William Saroyan, who is hailed as one of America's Greatest Playwrights. The production I saw was put on by The American Century Theatre, and directed by Laurie Mufson.

In contrast to the companion play I saw, Hello Out There, this play is far more plodding and is reminscent of the Lewis Carroll's Red Queen who has to keep moving constantly in order to stay in the same place. This has led to comparisons between Saroyan's work and that of contemporary film-makers like Quentin Tarantino, Tim Burton, and David Lynch. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, as this leads to various existential messages being elaborated in slow detail (Saroyan's works are hypothesised to have had a significant influence on existentialists such as Jean-Paul Sartre).

The plot is about a struggling poet and his son (Johnny, played brilliantly by Patrick McMurphy) who have no source of income, and aren't too worried about it. This play, as in Hello Out There, ends rather bleakly as Johnny and his father are removed from their home for failure to pay rent. Just as Saroyan left us with his works, so too does Johnny's father leave behind a collection of poems with the local grocer. Both men allow a select few to marvel at their visions of the world.

There are various sub-plots along the way that illustrate the existential nature of Saroyan's work. These include a conversation between Johnny and a newspaper boy about the death of their respective mothers, the comments about World War II, a discussion about the ethics of stealing between Johnny and his father, and the death of Jasper MacGregor, a actor friend of family.

Saroyan apparently believed that the best way to enjoy life was to fight the urge to live for money and material things, and that most mundane moments in life should be savoured. This is clearly evident in My Heart's In the Highlands where a collection of mundane moments are strung together leading to a poignant conclusion.

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